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Book Review

Book Cover

The Explorer


Author: James Smythe
Publisher: Harper Voyager
RRP: £7.99, US $13.95
ISBN: 978 0 00 745676 5
Publication Date: 29 August 2013

It seemed like the dream job. What journalist wouldn’t want to be on board the newest spaceship built, built to go further than any humans have ever gone. Bringing in a new era of exploration and adventure and all you have to do is record what happens. It seemed like a dream job until you exit your suspended animation tube to discover one of the crew didn’t make it, dried to a husk. The dream turns to horror as one by one your crewmates die, leaving you all alone. Bereft of human contact in a ship you cannot control you decide to end it quickly, only to wake up back at the beginning...

The Explorer (264 pages) is a new science fiction novel by James Smythe, who has previously written The Machine, The Testimony and Hereditation.

The tale tells the story of a lone survivor of a ship designed to go further than any other. At first it’s an odd read as Smythe barrels through the deaths of the crew and the final abandonment of life by the main character, in the first chapter. Odd, because of the speed through which he goes through the events. I read the first chapter thinking that at this rate the story would be soon over and wondering what made up the rest of the book. Odd, because the descriptions of what happen are sparse, little dialogue is present and there's no effort in explaining why people are mysteriously dying one after another.

When he wakes up again the story really starts, from this point we are given a much longer, outsiders, view of what occurred on the ship. Smythe uses this reboot to also examine the journalist's back story of how he came to be on the ship and the cost to his relationships in deciding to take the assignment. From the speedy first section this opens up, to explain some of the mysteries. Yet, even with this happening more mysteries are presented to the reader, in the end, creating an elegantly convoluted narrative, with a conclusion you will not be able to guess.

The whole story is told from the perspective of the journalist. One of the book's strengths is the way Smythe is able to hold your attention throughout the book when he, essentially only really focuses on a single character, Cormac Easton. From chapter two the story is a masterful exercise in claustrophobia. Cormac hides in the lining of the ship watching himself and the previous events unfold. The events as they become revealed are surprising and illuminating; bring sense to what was originally a series of senseless deaths.

If the book has a fault it’s in the realm of poor television physics, where the crew are able to stop their ship with the push of a single button without suddenly becoming so much jam against the bulkheads. But then like a lot of television science fiction the story is paramount rather than the factual accuracy.

The book is well worth looking out for; thematically combining a murder mystery, with what looks at first instance to be a haunted ship but turns out to be so much more.


Charles Packer

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